Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1228, (8 - 14 January 2015)
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1228, (8 - 14 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Meet Egypt’s whizz kids

Ameera Fouad enters the minds of young Egyptian robotic enthusiasts who have won international recognition

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Al-Ahram Weekly

“I would like to see robots replacing humans in routine work,” 18-year-old Zainab Mohamed told the Weekly. “Humans should not have to do work which does not require thinking and consumes their time.

“People should be more aware of automated machines, artificial intelligence, robotics, bio-inspired robotics, computer programming and other technologies invented for our welfare.”

Zainab thinks “robotically” and knows about computer programming, robotics and other branches of science, like mathematics and engineering. Her team, Al-Abahawat (The Privileged), recently took first place in the First Lego League (FLL), in the Metallica section, and third place in the Best Code and Design.

Remember when you were a child and used Lego bricks to build cars, buses, ships and airplanes? The colourful interlocking bricks, with their array of accessories, are an important part of feeding childhood imaginations. A new Lego innovation is a robotic line called Mindstorms.

“That’s how we build robots out of Lego in the FLL competition, as well as in the Robocop Junior Football, where we make the best use of Lego equipment to push our limits,” Zainab said.

Zeyad Rafik, 17, represented Egypt among the three teams in Vienna, Austria, in April 2014. His team won third place in the RoboCup competition. “We have won many international and national awards,” says Zeyad. “We have represented Egypt in many competitions and we have always won first place.

“I can’t describe how happy we are to represent Egypt. In the competitions we create robots from scratch, out of Lego, and then we do the programming and make these robots win. Sometimes we compete against young scientists from European countries and researchers who dedicate their time to winning these competitions.

“But we are just students from Egypt and we win them as well. My team, Al-Bashawat (The Leaders) took the champion’s place in the regional FLL and the Arabian FLL in 2013.”

Egypt’s young inventors have won places in many international competitions worldwide, but they seem to have been overlooked both by the media and government officials. Zeyad, Zainab and many others have shown remarkable success in the field of robotics in recent years. Some of them have graduated and joined prestigious universities in the US, Canada and the UK, thanks to the international awards they have won.

Among such training efforts is Techno-Future, the first educational organisation for children in Egypt focused on robotics. Celebrating ten years since its launch in 2004, Techno-Future has produced a generation of young inventors and innovators. It has helped establish Egypt as one of the countries working in artificial intelligence and robotics, and supported young Egyptians hosting and taking part in international and Arab competitions.

Ayman Al-Kabbany, Techno-Future’s chairman, says, “Our dream as an organisation is reflected in these children’s dreams. Our happiness lies in their happiness, when we see them succeeding and taking part in scientific research and activities. We have won more than 50 international awards, and Egypt is now one of the top countries in robotics, thanks to these children.”

But it is not enough for these young people to win one, two or even three international competitions. “Al-Asatza (The Professors), my team, took third place in Egypt, third place in Spain at Eurobot, and won best core values in Qatar,” Yasmine Baddar, 12, told the Weekly.

“We do presentations, scientific research, and problem-solving activities through challenging and educational robotics competitions. We create, design and build robots that look and behave like a human athlete.”

Yasmine’s dream is to become a doctor and to join a prestigious medical school. She is considered by many of her peers to be a whizz kid in technology.

“Some parents would object to their children doing any other activity than studying their school subjects during the school year. However, such parents can’t imagine how much we learn and how much we have fun in learning,” Yasmine added.

“Most of what we learn about mathematics, programming, engineering, technology and integrated science we do not do in school. Even if we took part in these subjects at schools, it wouldn’t be enough to do all the scientific experiments we do here,” Abdel-Rahman Al-Kabbany, 12, said. Abdel-Rahman and Youssef Mostafa’s team won the best presentation in the Arab World Robot Olympiad (WRO) in Qatar and Egypt in 2014.

Mohamed Mamdouh, 11, and Osama Hesham, 13, have presented for Egypt at WRO Qatar and other robotics competitions. They dream of studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US, and aspire to becoming engineers excelling in robotics.

“Robots will eventually be able to think beyond our capabilities. Robots could automate common forms of labour as well, allowing humans to relax. In second-year programming courses, professors still refer to Lego when explaining concepts, and now we can use Mindset Lego to compete with robots at Robocup, WRO, FLL, Eurobot, and many other competitions,” Mohamed said.

“We hope to see the government sponsor our travel arrangements and support us financially. We would like to see the media pay heed to all the accomplishments and achievements we have made. It is in the public’s interest that people are more aware of robotics science in Egypt,” Osama concluded.

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